For this week I wanted to do a feature on the film vs. digital debate. The battle began back in 1994 when digital photography was introduced on a consumer level and has been a topic of discussion between photographers for years now. When I started out as a photographer the only thing that I shot was film. It’s been well over a decade and I still shoot film, but in a very personal way. I don’t typically shoot film for my regular workflow but I try to mix it up when I have the chance to, especially while I am traveling in a new place. It’s all a personal choice and you like what you like but it is nice to know that film is here to stay for the long haul. There are too many people that enjoy film photography too much to get rid of it. The die-hards will do whatever it takes to keep the medium alive and I want to help contribute to that movement. I decided to breakdown a few things and speak my mind for a bit on the topic so, enjoy. This is one of those columns topics that I can’t believe I haven’t written about yet after all of this time and what better time to start than now?
When it comes to film there is something about it that just cant be duplicated. There is something about the look and feel of it that makes it completely different than digital photography. It’s one of those things where I can’t quite explain it but it just feels good to shoot film. It feels so much more realistic compared to shooting to a memory card. Part of it has to do with the fact that I grew up shooting film and I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon. I still find so much satisfaction in not knowing exactly how a photo comes out until you get it back form the lab. The anticipation and the surprise of it all is what I love. It’s an amazing process if you do your research as well and it’s so much more of an art form compared to digital photography. Another great thing about film at the moment is the price of all of the gear. You can literally buy so many amazing old cameras and lenses for cheap if you just keep your eyes open. Medium format, 35mm, Polaroid, anything. Look into it and you might be surprised. Film is something that can’t be replaced. I don’t care how many filter “pre-sets” there are that are supposed to replicate the look of it, it’s just not the same.
Film is a much more delicate form of photography compared to digital and it takes a dedicated person to learn the craft. Anyone with a few hundred (or thousands) of dollars to spend can easily go out and buy a great camera, but a great camera alone doesn’t make you a good photographer. It’s more about knowing how to use the gear you have to it’s full potential rather than just shooting in drive mode and hoping for the best. I have been shooting for years and still love making mistakes with film. You learn so much more rather than making a mistake with digital. There is much less room for error, and each shot literally costs me money so I take extra care in how I compose the shot, and make sure that all of my settings are on point.
I shot this photo in downtown Los Angeles a few months ago with my Leica “Minilux” and I just love the way photos look through that damn camera. It’s addicting to use. It’s a fully automatic camera and it seems to produce consistent results so far, with proper lighting of course. I love the feeling of loading up a new roll of film in a camera no matter what style it is or what year it might be from. I mainly shoot with a Ricoh 35mm SLR with Pentax 50mm 1.4 lens, a Polaroid 103 land camera, and my Leica. I just love the way the colors are replicated and I love the fact that you don’t really have to edit them in post. As long as it’s a clean, well-exposed negative you can get great results without much work after the fact. That comes into play seeing as how I spend a lot of time editing my digital photos so it’s a nice change of pace to see the result exactly how I envisioned it without much manipulation at all.
Digital photography is amazing in it’s own way. I personally don’t feel like it will ever fully take the place of film but at the same time, it isn’t going anywhere. Now, don’t get me wrong because on some level I know for sure that people would be very bummed if film was no longer available. Digital means more storage space, which means more photos, which is amazing. Also, the fact that you can shoot, upload your images to a computer, format the card and then start the entire process over time and time again is pretty rad. Having the instant feedback from the LCD screen on the back is also nice, especially if you are working on an important project that needs to get done right away. You can change your ISO with the push of a button instead of having to finish that roll of film and exchange it for a new one. The image quality on your average pro-level DSLR is unreal. It’s to the point where you really have to question where images came from before simply assuming. Although digital photography will never look the same as analog photography it is still something that I truly appreciate.
This photo was from a trip to the Salton Sea. If you don’t know what it is, do some research on it. It’s an incredibly place. I shot it on my Canon 1D Mark II N with my 50mm 1.8 lens. I have the older version with the metal mount from the late 70’s and the look and feel of it is slightly different compared to the cheaper, current day model. I actually shot a lot of film, and a lot of digital while I was there exploring the Salton Sea. Digital photography is just crisper, brighter, typically more contrasty and much easier to work with.
There are ups and downs to both options for sure so just experiment with each medium and find out what you like better. That’s the only way to get anything done photo-wise. You just have to go out and do it. At the end of the day is there one that I prefer over the other? Not necessarily. But, as a photographer I completely understand, respect and value the importance of analog photography and hope to inspire a few of you out there to do the same. Go online and check out some old 35mm camera gear, go get a plastic Holga camera, go out and buy a full medium format film kit… Either way just have some fun with it and go make some mistakes that you can’t fix. You will be surprised at how closely you pay attention to the light around you when it comes to shooting with film.
So, you might be curious as to who the winner is? In this case, it’s an even tie. I can’t really choose one way or another. I shoot mainly all digital for my workflow, which is how I make a living, so that has obvious importance to it. On the other hand, I absolutely love going out and shooting for personal satisfaction with a few different cameras loaded up with some fresh film. I can’t decide, and it would almost be a shame to pick a winner. They are both amazing, which is why I’ve been in love with photography since the day I really understood what it was all about years ago. On that note, get out and shoot! I am glad that I finally got around to doing a feature on the film vs. digital topic and I hope you enjoyed it. Leave a comment on what your favorite style of shooting is and why. Also, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the eighty second edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.
Let us know what your preference is and why in the comments!